Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bishop confirms M1, M2 and JS7 in jueteng list


By Marie A. Surbano, Angie M. Rosales and Amita O. Legaspi
Wednesday, 04 27, 2005

Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, who has been waging a lonely crusade against jueteng and has even gone to the extent of submitting a list of jueteng lords as well as the recipients of illegal numbers payoffs to the authorities, yesterday confirmed that the three relatives of a top MalacaƱang official, codenamed M1, M2 and JS7, are among those in the jueteng lord's payroll receiving payolas in exchange for protection of the continued operations of the illegal numbers game in the country.

Catholic bishops, this time, however, lent him support as ranking officials of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday questioned MalacaƱang's silence over the alleged involvement of the relatives of top Palace official on the illegal jueteng payoffs.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales raised this issue after the Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop, a former president of the CBCP, disclosed that the three presidential relatives were listed in the payroll of the gambling lords.

Rosales said the Catholic Church has been strongly against jueteng, but since it is an "organized extortion" and run by a "syndicate" it has never been stopped. "The church has never given its consent to gambling but we don't have any police powers. All we can do is point things out to the people," Rosales said in an interview during the thanksgiving Mass and lunch for the installation of Pope Benedict XVI held at the Villa Imaculada in Intramuros, Manila.

He is also convinced that politicians would not bother to stop the operations of jueteng since they are among the beneficiaries of these "organized extortion."

"If the politicians are benefiting, how can you expect them to prohibit these (jueteng operations)," Rosales said, adding, "Are the politicians ready to condemn jueteng when they are, from top to bottom, benefiting from this (jueteng)?"

Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, like Rosales, said he is also alarmed at the growing operation of jueteng and other forms of illegal gambling in the country.

"It's getting worse and worse. It has become a cancer, but the big question is why the government appears to be deaf and blind to this," Iniguez noted.

The bishops believe that not only the operators are earning in the jueteng operations but even the military and police footmen are in the payoffs.

President Arroyo's spokesman Ignacio Bunye also yesterday challenged the accusers of the three relatives of a top government official who are said to be protecting jueteng operations in the country to come out and prove their accusations.

According to Bunye, somebody has to come forward and prove his allegations as it is not fair to those whose names are being dragged without the accusers even presenting any evidence against the alleged protectors.

"The problem is that it is all gossip and rumor, all innuendo and no proof is being shown," he said during a radio interview, adding it is difficult to debate on issues based on blind items.

Reports have insinuated that First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo and his son Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo are allegedly part of the so-called jueteng trio.

The three relatives of a top government official, codenamed M1, M2 and JS7, allegedly have been dictating on who will get the top police post in provinces with huge jueteng payola.

M1 is the oldest of the three; M2 is a young politician from Luzon; and JS7 is allegedly the uncle of M2.

The three allegedly get substantial cuts from whatever the police officials get as payoffs from the illegal numbers game, apart from their payolas from the gambling lords.

The politicians who are involved in the jueteng operations allegedly have the blessings of M1.

Many of them are either political allies or members of a party identified with the top government official.

Speaker Jose de Venecia took the same Malacanang line, appealing to the his colleagues and the media as well to ignore the recent reports that linked personalities close to the President.

"Let us not dignify these rumors. they are just plain rumors unless there will be someone who would surface and openly say that this one and that one is connected with jueteng," the Speaker said.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero expressed disappointment with De Venecia's stand.

"It is not his call (whether to say the reports should be dignified by the lawmakers and the media)," Escudero said during a separate interview, adding the allegations have to be investigated.

"As the saying goes. where there is smoke there is fire. We owe it to our people and to ourselves to remove any cloud of doubt regarding this issue," he said.

But the die is cast.

The Senate has set the stage for the unmasking before the public of the three close relatives of the high-ranking government official allegedly raking up millions of pesos in payola operations, which are said to have grown into a P30 billion a year industry.

But before formal investigation takes place anytime soon, the senators wanted to have the so-called whistle-blower who had branded the three jueteng beneficiaries as M1, M2 and JS7 identified.

The Senate has directed its committee on games, amusement and sports headed by Sen. Lito Lapid to carry out immediately the inquiry upon the initiative of Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said Lapid has to inhibit himself from sitting as chairman of the inquiry to avoid facing the possible issue of political partisanship.

Lapid ran and won his Senate seat in last year's elections under the administration's K-4 coalition and, like Mrs. Arroyo, is a native of Pampanga province, an area where jueteng is allegedly rampant.

Pimentel, during a telephone interview, said he had approached Lapid on the matter, pointing out that a "number of personalities stand to be dragged in the way" once the congressional inquiry begins to roll.

The opposition leader is said to prefer that his resolution be referred to the justice and human rights committee headed by Sen. Joker Arroyo and the local governments committee headed by Sen. Alfredo Lim.

Administration Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, however, said the chamber should first ascertain the source of the charges against M1, M2 and JS7.

"Why should this be leaked to the public without the one who leaked not willing to back up his statement? Who is he? Is he an official? A deep penetration agent? An elective official? Or an appointive official?'' Biazon asked.

He said the PNP should also be asked to conduct a parallel investigation as to who these personalities are.

He added the PNP should be given the upper hand in ascertaining the real identities of the persons behind the codenames so that appropriate actions can be taken by authorities.

"The director general of the PNP is obligated by his position to uncover this whole issue and if they are jueteng lords, they should be prosecuted... and be sent to jail where they belong," Biazon said.

"This business of some elements leaking stories like this to the public that tend to erode the confidence and trust of our people in institutions is a grave problem. Are there elements within the organizations that want to erode the public's confidence in their institutions? We see this all the time... anonymous sources leaking information they do not want to confirm," the senator pointed out.

Biazon appeared to have overlooked the issue of the PNP chief, Arturo Lomibao, being hounded when he assumed his post for his allegedly close association with Mr. Arroyo.

Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., who was instrumental in the impeachment trial of the now detained President Joseph Estrada, has opted to stay clear of the jueteng payola issue.

During a chance interview with Senate reporters after attending his confirmation hearing as new ambassador to China, North Korea and Mongolia, Guingona gave a surprise answer to queries on his knowledge about the jueteng operations in the country.

"I don't know the details. I don't have the facts. Just excuse me in this matter," he said.

When asked if he has lost interest in the jueteng issue, Guingona answered in the negative and explained that he had not been following the issue after he stood before the Senate to accuse Estrada.

"I don't have evidence," Guingona said.

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